Arts Desk

Reviewed: “DC Emerging” at VisArts

With the hubbub surrounding the forthcoming (e)merge Art Fair in September, it seems that VisArts in Rockville is trying to capitalize on the hype with their latest exhibition, "DC Emerging: New Urban and Domestic Interpretations." Nestled in a rather small space, the exhibition features five of the area’s emerging artists who supposedly create works inspired by the metropolitan area. But many of the show's pieces could just as easily be inspired by any metropolitan area—whether D.C. or Des Moines. None of the artists or art works gravitate to issues that are singularly related to the D.C. area. In other words, don’t expect anything political.

Maggie Gourlay, "An Abundance of Cleanliness"

The show's strength is derived from the works' relationships and how well they play together. Entering the gallery, the most noticeable piece is a sculpture of four cranes suspending rods of various materials above the ground. Knowing that the show features Jessica van Brakle—an artist who has somewhat staked her artistic identity on illustrating industrial cranes—might lead one to think she's moved beyond two-dimensional work. But the sculptures belong to Sean Lundgren, who frequently works with tile, ceramics, and other earthy materials. The suspended rods are made from wood, concrete, aluminum, and steel, and it takes plenty of support to suspend them above the floor. In a sense, Lundgren's piece is as much about gravity as it is a comment on surface, material, or construction.

Van Brakle’s work has evolved in the last year. Though she still incorporates cranes into her paintings, they no longer seem to be forced into design motifs and patterns. Instead they exist as barely perceptible elements within a Rorschach that emphasizes the negative spaces of foliage. Her abstractions play well with the works on paper by Mariah Anne Johnson, who references domesticity in her paintings of patterns and line drawings of stoves and telephones. These references fight to survive on the paper as the artist appears to also negate the forms with brush marks and splotches of paint—like a Rauschenberg, only without the self-reflecting narratives on homosexuality.

Facing Johnson’s work on a pedestal is a sculptural installation by Maggie Gourlay, in which pattern-painted sheets pour out of two faucets. The patterns respond well to the patterns in Johnson’s work, and the placement of the faucets—close to the floor—is an unexpected choice.

The gouache paintings by Mike Dowley are perhaps the weakest works in the exhibition. Seemingly borne of the Jacob Lawrence school of naïve mark-making, his pieces employ patterns—responding well to Johnson and Gourlay's pieces—but most of his paintings possess an element of landscape. Held up to the other artists' contributions, Dowley's would be best displayed on a refrigerator door.

Through Aug. 11 at VisArts, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. Open Mon-Fri 10 a.m.5 p.m.

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